Monday, February 28, 2011

Track Review: Julianna Barwick - "The Magic Place"

The music of Juliana Barwick exists in the realm of the waking dream. Some might even refer to this state as the magic place of human existence: not quite cognizant but alive in thought. Conveniently, as the title track to her debut full-length, “The Magic Place” does an effective job outlining the parameters of Barwick’s unique sound world. In genre terms, it’s a place that one might chart the intersection of ambient, dream-pop, and minimalism. Its closest antecedent is probably Eno’s early ambient experiments, particularly Music for Airports (1978), whose looped choral pieces spin equally enthralling sonic cathedrals from just a few basic elements. The particulars of Barwick’s music, however, aren’t nearly as fascinating as the final product, which exists almost completely outside of contemporary trends, and that includes all of the above signifiers.

With so much modern indie-pop and electronic music dedicated to obfuscating vocals, it’s refreshing to see a musician not only heavily feature vox, but use such an intimate instrument as a foundation from which to build upon and expand the boundaries of one’s music. The album proper is said to feature more instrumentation than her prior work, but “The Magic Place” sounds like an almost direct extension of her Florine EP’s lucid dream aura. In Barwick’s world, lyrics are vague impressions meant to be conveyed via feeling and expression. In fact, nothing about this music is tangible: words contract and expand only to float off into the ether, blurring into the next syllable; synthesizer drone wraps the proceedings in a gauzy, indefinite ambiance; while microscopic loops keep the material rotating just out of reach.

The lightly blanketed inertia eventually gives way in the track’s final moments to a longer stretch of proper syntax. Vaguely reminiscent of the unraveling minimal techno of the Field, this short spell of disintegration does little to illuminate the vivid impression previously established, which is impressive given one’s tendency to reach for something concrete in music of this nature. Being such an airtight and singular sound may pose structural problems across the extended length of an LP, but Barwick’s effectiveness thus far in short-form missives cannot be understated. [CMG]

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